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Philadelphia Orchestra’s Chord with China: A Human Connection with Music

By Hu Ximeng (People's Daily Online)    14:18, May 21, 2019
Philadelphia Orchestra’s Chord with China: A Human Connection with Music
The Philadelphia Orchestra opened the 12th visit to China in the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, leading by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Orchestra/Chris Lee)

A full house and a standing ovation, the Beijing audiences extended the warmest welcome to one of their dear old friends, the Philadelphia Orchestra, who opened the 12th visit to China with two extraordinary performances on May 17 and 18.

Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the establishment of China-US diplomatic relations, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2019 Tour of China, leading by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, weighs a special significance to the people of both countries.

In celebration of the anniversary, one of the highlights of the tour is the world premiere of two special works, both written by renowned Chinese composer Tan Dun. Fanfare Overture is written in honor of former US Ambassador to China, Nicholas Platt, who was responsible for organizing the orchestra’s first visit to China in 1973. And the other work, Murals of Dunhuang: “The Deer of Nine Colors,” is a vocal concerto featuring an ancient Chinese folktale with Chinese soprano Lei Jia, who amazingly takes on 12 different roles in the short piece of distinctive Chinese music with western features.

The prestigious Philadelphia Orchestra became the first American orchestra that performed in China, a year after the former US President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to the country in 1972.

“When we first came to China in 1973, we learnt a very important lesson about people-to-people exchange,” Ryan Fleur, the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, said in an interview with People’s Daily. “We didn’t only give concerts in Beijing and Shanghai, but we worked locally with musicians, or just citizens on the street.”

Back in 1973, there wasn’t many western music studied in China. The country’s reform and opening up started from 1978 has brought a more diverse world to the general public, who has now become much more enthusiastic to embrace arts from different cultures.

“We watched our audiences change,” said Fleur, “In earlier times, they didn’t always know how to respond to the music. So they just applied applause. But each time we come back, we feel a deeper and deeper appreciation.”

The two-way exchange between China and the US is not restricted to concerts in theaters, but there have been various cultural and educational residency activities to build connections with ordinary people, including joint performances with Chinese university students, pop-up concerts in communities, open rehearsals and master classes.

Despite the increasingly complex international situation, Fleur sees the present as an opportunity for culture exchange between China and the US to grow even stronger.

“Politicians change all the time and opinions change all the time, and that’s fine. What we are doing is we are communicating music and sharing music with the people of China. Because it’s about the people of our countries that are the most important,” said Fleur.

The Philadelphia Orchestra is planning a full-orchestra visit in two years. Musicians from the two countries will have more exchange visits to work side-by-side on both western and Chinese music.

“It is very important to show not only we play music as an orchestra, but we are human as well. And while we are a United States orchestra, that doesn’t define who we are. We are simply human beings making music and communicating with other human beings,” said Fleur. 


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(Web editor: Hu Ximeng, Bianji)

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